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I am going through the pangs of being born. Sympathize with me, my brothers! Do not stand in the way of my coming to life—do not wish death on me. Do not give back to the world one who wants to be God’s; do not trick him with material things. Let me get into the clear light and manhood will be mine.

St. Ignatius of Antioch, To the Romans, 6.2

My good friend Nathan (“Basil”) has produced a wonderful new film about 1) the stories of religiously unaffiliated persons or “nones” and 2) the story of how he went from being a none to finding the Orthodox Church.

You can watch the trailer above.

There is a press release here.

The film has a website, where you can request to host a screening, here.

View full article »

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Holy Week and Pascha 2017

According to Jim Forest,

No matter what season of the year it was, [St. Seraphim of Sarov] greeted visitors with the paschal salutation, “Christ is risen!” As another paschal gesture, he always wore a white robe.

Truly he is risen!

Pascha came early to my little family this year. That’s not a reference to the Eastern Church calendar either; by some liturgical accident East and West had the same date this year.

No, I say Pascha came early because our second son Aidan was born right at the start of Lent. View full article »

Get Born

patriarch_nicholas_mystikos_baptizes_constantine_vii_porphyrogennetosNow, it is certainly required that what is subject to change be in a sense always coming to birth. In mutable nature nothing can be observed which is always the same. Being born, in the sense of constantly experiencing change, does not come about as a result of external initiative, as is the case with the birth of the body, which takes place by chance. Such a [spiritual] birth occurs by choice. We are in some manner our own parents, giving birth to ourselves by our own free choice in accordance with whatever we wish to be … moulding ourselves to the teaching of virtue or vice.

~ St. Gregory of Nyssa, The Life of Moses, 2.3

Birth is a common spiritual metaphor, but—at least in my own case—I do not think the depth of this metaphor is contemplated often enough. View full article »

My Son’s Questions about “Our Father”

When we confess the God and Lord of all Creation to be our Father, we confess that we have been called from a state of slavery to the state of adopted sons.

~ St. John Cassian, Conferences

Every night as part of our son Brendan’s bedtime routine, we have him recite the “Our Father” or “Lord’s Prayer”—the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples to say in the Sermon on the Mount. It goes like this:

Our Father,
Who art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name,
Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
Forgive us our trespasses
As we forgive those who trespass against us.
Lead us not into temptation
But deliver us from evil.

Since we’re Orthodox Christians, we then end with “Through the prayers of our holy fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy upon us and save us. Amen.”

Brendan, who is four years old, has been able to recite the prayer from memory for over a year. I have prayed it with him nearly every night since he was born. So now that he’s bigger he’s the one who says it. As a reward, he gets a smiley face on his chore chart.

After a few months of having him pray, he started asking questions. “What’s evil?” was the first one. “What’s heaven?” was the second. He has also asked what “our daily bread,” “our trespasses,” and “temptation” are. These are great questions! View full article »

Some Pauline Beatitudes

And when Paul entered into the house of Onesiphorus, there was great joy, and bowing of knees and breaking of bread, and the word of God concerning abstinence (or continence) and the resurrection; for Paul said:

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

Blessed are they that keep the flesh chaste, for they shall become the temple of God.

Blessed are they that abstain (or the continent), for unto them shall God speak.

Blessed are they that have renounced this world, for they shall be well-pleasing unto God.

Blessed are they that possess their wives as though they had them not, for they shall inherit God.

Blessed are they that have the fear of God, for they shall become angels [messengers?] of God.

Blessed are they that tremble at the oracles of God, for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are they that receive the wisdom of Jesus Christ, for they shall be called sons of the Most High.

Blessed are they that have kept their baptism pure, for they shall rest with the Father and with the Son.

Blessed are they that have compassed the understanding of Jesus Christ, for they shall be in light.

Blessed are they that for love of God have departed from the fashion of this world, for they shall judge angels, and shall be blessed at the right hand of the Father.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy and shall not see the bitter day of judgement.

Blessed are the bodies of the virgins, for they shall be well-pleasing unto God and shall not lose the reward of their continence (chastity), for the word of the Father shall be unto them a work of salvation in the day of his Son, and they shall have rest world without end.

~ Acts of Paul (and Thecla)

Today in the Orthodox Church we commemorate the holy virgin St. Thecla. The account of her meeting with St. Paul and how she miraculously escaped martyrdom several times comes right after these Pauline beatitudes in the Acts of Paul and Thecla, a product of the era of the Apostolic Fathers of Christian literature or just after (a late first- or second-century text).

While, of course, one may question the details of the story, there seems to be strong evidence that there was indeed a St. Thecla of Iconium, and St. Paul did in fact travel there and preach there. But I’m not so concerned about historical curiosities as I am about the text itself: Whatever else they may be, writings like this were meant to be didactic, and so we need not be historians to learn something valuable from the text. View full article »

Racism and Asceticism

40a3c679a8a8c232f2bfaf15d6698bdfAt a meeting of monks in Scete, the old men wanted to test Abba Moses. So they poured scorn on him, saying: “Who is this blackamoor that has come among us?” Moses heard them, but said nothing. When the meeting had dispersed, the men who had given the insults, asked him: “Were you not troubled in your heart?” He answered: “I was troubled, and I said nothing.”

~ Sayings of the Desert Fathers

Today is the feast day of St. Moses the Ethiopian, also known as St. Moses the Black. (I’ll give you three guesses why.)

As this saying shows racism is not new. No doubt it grows naturally (however viciously) from our tribal pasts, when one’s society was also one’s extended family. Not only were customs and culture shared, so was DNA and, thus, common physical characteristics. View full article »

Some Virtues of Impure Prayer

The Holy Spirit, out of compassion for our weakness, comes to us even when we are impure. And if only He finds our intellect truly praying to Him, He enters it and puts to flight the whole array of thoughts and ideas circling within it, and He arouses it to a longing for spiritual prayer.

~ Evagrios, On Prayer

This reminds me of Jesus’s words to Nicodemus: “The wind blows where it wills; you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from, or where it is going. So with everyone who is born from spirit” (John 3:8).

Evargios seems at once broader and narrower in his meaning, however. He’s not clearly talking about baptism, whereas, in context, that is how Jesus’s words have traditionally been understood. Those who are baptized are “born again” or “born from above” (the Greek could mean either). We are born of the flesh from our mothers, but spiritually born again through baptism. View full article »

Unceasing Prayer is for Everyone

Let no one think, my Christian Brethren, that only persons in holy orders, or monks, are obliged to pray unceasingly and at all times, but not laymen. No, no! It is the duty of all us Christians to remain always in prayer.

~ St. Gregory Palamas, On the Necessity of Constant Prayer for all Christians in General

This is both an encouraging and a hard saying. It is encouraging because it affirms the focus of this blog, everyday asceticism. It is hard because it seemingly sets the bar so high. View full article »

The Beauty of Lent

In honor of the start of Western Lent on this Ash Wednesday (Orthodox Lent doesn’t start until March), I wrote a short reflection for Ethika Politika.

In ancient Egypt there lived an abbess named Sarah. The Sayings of the Desert Fathers reports of her that “for sixty years she lived on the bank of a river, and never looked down to see the water.”

As someone who loves all the sights of this world that God created good and beautiful (Genesis 1), it took me a long time to have some inkling why ancient Christians would find this story admirable. Did Sarah not appreciate the goodness of creation? Did she have an unhealthy, negative assessment of the material world?

We don’t know the answer. There is no more to the story. But I’ve come to see that there is another way of understanding it that gets at the heart of Lent.

Read more here.

I recently came across this passage from St. Theophan the Recluse. The idea of everyday asceticism isn’t new: View full article »